A failure of epic proportions: Putin's blunders pockmark year of invasion

By Olha Chepil

The Kremlin planned to take Kyiv in three days. Instead, over the course of a year, it has lost thousands of soldiers and demonstrated major failures on the battlefield. [Caravanserai]

KYIV -- In the early morning of February 24, 2022, tens of thousands of Russian soldiers crossed Ukraine's border, expecting after a few days to parade along Khreshchatyk, Kyiv's main thoroughfare.

This assumption was apparent from the dress uniforms later found in the invaders' destroyed armoured vehicles.

At the time, the Kremlin could not have imagined that a year would pass without it being able to achieve even a fraction of its plan -- all while suffering catastrophic losses of military equipment and personnel.

Russia has lost more than 1,500 tanks in Ukraine since the start of the full-scale invasion, estimates Oryx, a monitoring group. According to analysts, 1,017 were destroyed and another 547 have been captured.

Ukrainian soldiers adjust their flag atop an armoured personnel carrier on a road near Lyman, Donetsk province, on October 4, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine. [Anatolii Stepanov/AFP]

Ukrainian soldiers adjust their flag atop an armoured personnel carrier on a road near Lyman, Donetsk province, on October 4, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine. [Anatolii Stepanov/AFP]

"Russia started the war with around 3,000 operational tanks … so there is a good chance that Russia has lost one half of [its] usable tanks," military analyst and Oryx blog contributor Jakub Janovsky told CNN on February 9.

The Kremlin's total equipment losses amount to more than 9,000 vehicles, according to Oryx. And that estimate reflects only destroyed vehicles verified by photos or videos. The real number of losses is greater.

Meanwhile, the UK Ministry of Defence on February 7 said the death toll for Russian soldiers in the war in Ukraine could be as high as 60,000, while another 175,000 to 200,000 Russian Defence Ministry forces and private contractors have likely suffered casualties since the start of the war.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces has given higher figures: more than 140,000 Russian personnel killed.

A failed blitzkrieg

Russian President Vladimir Putin's gamble has seen failure after failure in the year since the start of the invasion, say war watchers.

The first few hours of Russia's so-called "special operation" largely set the tone of war.

Russia's military suffered from food and fuel shortages, abandoned armoured vehicles, and aircraft losses.

Invading columns stalled, and the Ukrainians prevented the Kremlin's air force from controlling the skies.

Ukrainian forces lured the Russians deep into their territory and then destroyed supply lines, eventually forcing them to retreat from Kyiv province.

"For me, the most important, crucial moment was when Kyiv survived in the first days. It did not fall. That was telling," said Ivan Stupak, a former Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) officer and analyst at the Ukrainian Institute of the Future.

"It was at that moment that I knew everything was going to be all right. It will be long and hard, but the ending will be positive for us," he said.

"The liberation of Kyiv province gave everyone hope."

Ivan Kirichevsky, a military analyst at Defence Express, a Kyiv-based consulting firm, agreed.

"One of the biggest Russian defeats was that in the first hours of the war they tried to knock out our air defence and air force, but they could not do it," he said.

"This ... failure in the early hours of the war is so strategically significant that [the Russians] are still suffering from it."

The April 14 sinking of the missile cruiser Moskva, the flagship of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, represented yet another major defeat.

"The episode involving the sinking of the Moskva must be set apart as a singular victory," said Kirichevsky. "It's not just about symbolism. It's about the fact that this was the first cruiser-class ship in history to be sunk by missiles."

"Nobody had done this before. Our two Neptune missiles dealt with [the ship]," he said.

The successful counter-offensive in Kharkiv province in September and the liberation of Kherson in November marked Russia's next failures -- and a major turning point in the war.

"They are symbolic of changes, after which people already knew who would be victorious -- although they still had to fight for it," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote on his official Telegram channel on November 20.

"This is precisely how we feel now. Now that Kherson is free."

Shifting the balance

But perhaps Putin's greatest failure throughout the war was the unification of Ukraine's allies, who have since supplied high-precision weapons including the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS).

"This is very important. Aid to Ukraine is increasing. The pace is accelerating. The range is expanding," said Ihor Petrenko, a political analyst at the Kyiv-based think tank United Ukraine.

"The entire civilised world is for Ukraine: the United States, European Union, Great Britain and many other countries. And the balance is obviously no longer in favour of Russia," he said.

"At first, they thought they would take Kyiv in three to four days. Then they increased the time frame to a couple of months," he said.

"Then they got Surovikin and decided to use terror tactics like in Syria, but that didn't work either," Petrenko said, referring to Gen. Sergei Surovikin, who was appointed the commander of Russian forces in Ukraine in October.

Surovikin previously commanded Russia's Aerospace Forces in Syria, where he was known for brutal tactics, including strikes on civilian targets and the use of chemical weapons.

In January, the Russian Defence Ministry announced Surovikin's replacement by Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian General Staff.

"Now the Kremlin has installed Gerasimov and is hoping to turn it all into a prolonged conflict, but I think they will meet the same success -- zero," said Petrenko.

'Death sentence'

The main outcome of the past year is an exhausted Russia whose troops are paralysed, say analysts.

"They lack the resources, but still they rush forward," said Kirichevsky of the Defence Express consultancy.

While Russian propagandists insist all is well, advisers to the Russian Defence Ministry are being more candid, he said, citing Ruslan Pukhov as someone who bluntly tells the Kremlin that "Russia simply is in no condition to attack".

Pukhov is director of the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies in Moscow.

"Do you know what Russia's biggest problem is? Blind hatred," said Stupak, the former SBU officer.

"When there's blind hatred, when there's blind rage, then it's hard to be rational. You can't dispassionately determine your moves," he said.

"For Russia, the situation is very gloomy," said Petrenko.

"And Russia's main problem is Putin. If it had another, more capable president and leader of the country, he or she would already realise that it needs to enter into negotiations with appropriate proposals."

"But for Putin, negotiations are an admission of defeat -- in other words, a death sentence."

"He knows perfectly well that he would be trampled like a lame duck," Petrenko said.

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